An article written for the Entertainment Scene website in January 2008 reflecting on the 1960s BBC programme Juke Box Jury.
For the whole of January 2008, BBC4 here in the UK is running a season about the evolution of Pop Music, looking at the changes over the last fifty years. This features documentaries, old TV shows, films and concerts, and has included a couple of classic sixties’ episodes of “Top of the Pops” and “Jukebox Jury”. The latter of these was the more fascinating, and at the same time a little bit scary.
The edition they showed, in its entirety, was from November 1960, so obviously it was in black and white. I have often, in the way that only ageing grumpies can, regaled my now-adult children with how my memories of childhood are primarily in shades of grey. This programme illustrated it perfectly.
Bear in mind that this was the X-Factor of its day, put out in a prime time slot early on a Saturday evening, and watched by a large percentage of those lucky enough to own a telly. The home audience at the time would have included me, aged ten, as I used to watch it avidly every week. This was primarily in the vain hope that the BBC would include a record that might not receive the inevitable nod of generational-approval from my parents, something vaguely anarchic like the rock & roll, blues or soul I caught snippets of between the static and fading signal of Radio Luxembourg on the tiny transistor radio secreted under my pillow at night.
The show featured a panel of four celebrities, who each gave their views on the records played to them, then voted whether they thought the record would be a ‘Hit’, greeted by a ‘ting’ on host David Jacobs’ Deskbell, or a ‘Miss’, announced by a Klaxon secreted beneath his desk, which he had to reach down to operate in a suitably disparaging manner. There were no live performances, although occasionally an artist might be concealed backstage to be revealed to the potentially-embarrassed jury after they had announced their verdict.
Each record was summoned in turn by David Jacobs pressing a button on the fascia of the central prop, a 1950’s Seeburg Jukebox, and then watching it fall into place. The record then played, and the camera panned across the jurists who listened attentively, as though taking part in a sort of musical-appreciation class, before making suitably high-brow observations on the quality of the arrangements, or disapproving comments regarding the pop industry’s attempted undermining of Christmas as a religious festival.
This was acted-out in front of a live, but seated, studio audience of young people, whose attention was competed for equally by the music being played, and the possibility that the camera lens may alight upon them, as it roved around looking for any sign of a spark of enthusiasm on their faces that may give-away the potential destiny of the ‘platter’ being aired. Occasionally, it would enthusiastically zoom-in on a foot that had ignored the BBC’s decorum rules and was actually tapping to the beat.
The jury on this particular show featured in the nostalgia season, consisted of Danish ‘pop-duo’, Nina & Frederick (Nina wearing some couture creation that appeared to be fastened to the desk, and into which she had been lowered by crane), plus actor David McCallum (at that time not-yet famous for his part in the Man from UNCLE), and his actress-wife Jill Ireland. The records they reviewed, all released that week and expected to be contenders for the Hit Parade, as it was known then, were from artists including Johnny Tillotson (Poetry in Motion), Adam Faith (I’m a Lonely Pup in a Christmas Shop), Pinky & Perky (Eeney Meeney Miney Mo), Frank Sinatra (Ol’ MacDonald Had a Farm) and Joe “Mr Piano” Henderson (Honky Tonk Concerto).
If you think that lot was a bit scary, then just reflect on how this was less than two years before the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” burst onto the UK scene, releasing the rock genie from its bottle, thankfully never to return. It all makes one wonder what music programmes we could have been watching on TV nowadays had a 15-year old Paul McCartney not wandered into the St Peter’s Parish Church Fete in Woolton, Liverpool on 6th July 1957, where he saw a band called the Quarrymen performing, and afterwards met and chatted with their lead singer, a 16-year-old lad called John Lennon.